Caves

Fr. Romanik’s excellent reflections on Elijah’s time in his cave, running from Jezebel’s wrath.

lost in wonder, love, and praise...

Like many of you, my wife and I spent last Thursday evening watching Game 7 of the NBA Finals.  And like many of you, we were disappointed when the San Antonio Spurs lost after a valiant effort against the Miami Heat.  Our disappointment, however, was nothing compared to the despair of those who had grown up rooting for the Spurs.  In the aftermath of the loss, Spurs fans wept on sports radio and sank into deep depressions.  Interestingly, many fans wondered if they had done all they could to ensure a Spurs victory.  Keep in mind that these are not members of the Spurs organization; they are simply fans who engage in elaborate rituals they are convinced influence the outcome of basketball games.  I heard one such fan explain that he watched Game 7 wearing a Tim Duncan jersey, a David Robinson jersey, and three championship hats all at the…

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The One Wherein A Baboon Attacks Us

I’m writing this blog from the passenger seat of a safari van on its way south from Nakuru, Kenya.  The whole College Team is present and we are a relaxed and very happy bunch.  We’ll be taking of from Kenyatta airport in about thirteen hours on our 24 hour combination of flights back to Kansas City International Airport.  The trip is almost done and we’re ready to return.  Only the intrepid Tyler Kerr will be staying behind, for two more weeks to work on a water filtration project with the Community and Medical Teams.

Lake Nakuru is famous for its large flamingo population.

Lake Nakuru is famous for its large flamingo population.

There are zebra all over the place.  This one has a baby!

There are zebra all over the place. This one has a baby!

We got to see a spectacular rain storm blow in.  "It's gonna take a lot to take me away from you!"

We got to see a spectacular rain storm blow in. “It’s gonna take a lot to take me away from you!”

For the past 24 hours, we’ve been on Safari in and around the Lake Nakuru Game Reserve, located near the town of Nakuru, Kenya.  Nakuru is the capital of the county were we’ve been spending most of our time.  Nakuru is also the see of the Anglican Diocese of Nakuru (I asked Joe, our driver for the past two weeks, if he knew where the cathedral of Nakuru was and he said he didn’t.  Should have thought of that much earlier!).

We saw a lot of buffalo.  This one was especially old and unflappable.

We saw a lot of buffalo. This one was especially old and unflappable.

Modern-day safaris aren’t anything like the kind that Dr. Livingston would have taken into the bush.  Today, due to the conservation efforts of the Kenyan government, safaris are pretty clinical.  You pay an entry fee ($80) to get into a game reserve (think “huge park with a TON of animals bound by a fence, but not from each other”) and then you go on a drive along gravel roads looking at animals in their “natural” habitat.  Then you buy a room at a five-star resort inside the Park.  It’s actually pretty amazing and it can be very random, but it’s not the “Go Out Into The Bush With Your Elephant Gun and Pith Hat” of yester-year.  In 2007 when I was here, we safaried at Samburu game reserve up in North Kenya.

We saw many giraffe.  This one was especially beautiful.

We saw many giraffe. This one was especially beautiful.

As I have been sitting in the front seat for the entirety of our time in Kenya, I’ve had a lot of conversations with Joe who is a very wise man.  He has an insane amount of experience driving around Kenya and makes his living driving foreigners into and around game reserves.  I was especially blown away by his knowledge of the animals of Kenya’s game parks.  He told me that Nakurua is good for viewing Flamingo, but that we wouldn’t see any elephants.  I was especially sad to hear this as seeing live elephant troops in Samburu was one of the highlights of my last trip to Kenya… it literally moved me to tears.  I do remember being disappointed at not being able to see the other big herbivores: Rhinoceros and Hippopotamus.

A solitary white rhino.  Very large.

A solitary white rhino. Very large.

We arrived in Lake Nakuru Park around 10:30am on Thursday and went for our first drive on our way to our Lodge and our awaiting lunch.  On the way in, we saw several different kinds of gazelle (learning the difference between the Grant Gazelle and the Thompson Gazelle: The white coloring on the butt starts above the tail in the Thompson Gazelle), a TON of Buffalo, a family of Varvet Monkeys and some baboons.  Joe told me that Kenyans call baboons “naughty boys.”  I asked why and he said, “They like to steal food and if they can’t find food, they shit in your things.”

A baboon in its most non-threatening stance.  This is a buddha baboon.

A baboon in its most non-threatening stance. This is a buddha baboon.

So we were feeling pretty good when we got to our first stop, a lookout over the massive Lake Nakuru called Baboon Point.  Now I will tell you that when I was in Samburu in 2007, the one rule was “Don’t get out of the vehicle.”  Well that apparently isn’t a rule in Nakuru because Joe parked and told us that we could go to the lookout if we liked.  We all left the vehicle and spent about ten minutes enjoying the spectacular view and using the restroom.  Just as we were getting back into the vehicle, we saw a male baboon walking through the parking lot.  One of the ladies asked if they were dangerous and, as if wanting to answer for itself, the baboon turned and started walking toward our vehicle.  When it picked up speed and started running, we heard several cries of, “Uh Oh!”  In one bounce, it used my window as a vaulting point to jump up onto the roof of the bus and entered the van (which was occupied by the full team.  As it jumped around inside, the team left the van faster than rats flee a sinking ship.  Joe and I jumped out of the vehicle as well and everybody was screaming.

After making just a few moments, the baboon escaped out the top of the van carrying a plastic back of water and snacks.  Joe successfully scared it away by throwing rocks and a walking stick at it.  Thinking we were safe, we all started to get back into the van after having a good laugh, but just as we re-entered the van, the baboon, who was disappointed to have only found a bottle of water in the bag returned and entered the van again.  More screaming and laughing ensued and the baboon made off with a can of Red Bull.  We all piled into the van and took off.

Joe says that nothing like that has ever happened to him before.  As the adrenaline wore off, we just kept laughing and laughing about the baboon and imagined what would happen if he did actually drink that Red Bull (a popular energy drink).  We started joking around about how we were all experiencing PBTSD (Post-Baboon Traumatic Stress Disorder) and every baboon we saw for the rest of the safari was a potential assailant.  Later on that evening, we imagined that the baboons might mount a war party to come get the rest of our Red Bull.

We only saw one hyena.  This one is a spotted hyena.

We only saw one hyena. This one is a spotted hyena.

That experience could easily have gone very badly.  Like all apes, the Baboon is incredibly strong for its size (this one was about the size of an average American 9th grader).  They also have very sharp fangs to help their omnivorous diet.  Thankfully, nobody was bitten or scratched and the only damage was to our sense of invincibility and to one of the young ladies’ cameras.

Egyptian Geese abound in Nakuru.  We were pumped to see all the goslings!

Egyptian Geese abound in Nakuru. We were pumped to see all the goslings!

My high point of the safari was the chance to see rhinoceros.  We were able to see several of the more abundant white rhinos including several young rhinos.  However, the real treat was seeing three different black rhinos, rarest of the rhino species.  I believe there are less than 2,000 black rhinos still alive; both species have been hunted to the brink for their horns, which are thought, in some parts of the world, to cure everything from erectile dysfunction to cancer.  Seeing lions and cheetahs is cool, but for me seeing the endangered massive herbivores is a huge treat.

A family of white rhinoceros.  Two adolescents!

A family of white rhinoceros. Two adolescents!

All my black rhino pictures look like pictures of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.  This was the best.  Notice a much bigger horn and darker color.

All my black rhino pictures look like pictures of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. This was the best. Notice a much bigger horn and darker color.

The rest of the safari was pretty uneventful, but we enjoyed our Sabbath at the resort and our delicious meals.  In 2007, I was deeply troubled by the expense we put into a post-Mission safari, especially imagining what good that kind of money could do in the troubled places of Kenya.  This time around I’m still troubled by it, but also consider it as an important part of getting the “African Experience,” something we might never again be able to do.  Seeing the animals that we’ve only read about or seen in pictures is an amazing treat.  We still do have to contend with the disconnect between the poverty we see in Kibera and Maai Mahiu, but we also have to take opportunities to experience the majesty of God’s creation.

The full team at Malika Falls.

The full team at Malika Falls.

Finding balance is very difficult.  Prayer helps.  Humility is important.  God’s love through our sinfulness endures.

Our Last Day (with the Bishop!)

As we wrapped up our final work day, I realized that it was easily my favorite day of the trip.  It was very full, but we were graced with the presence of Bishop Wolfe who arrived in Kenya a couple days ago.

Unfortunately, my camera ran out of battery supply pretty early in the day, so I’m missing pictures from later in the day.

We started out at Munengi Primary School in Longonot Township.  We were, again, teaching the students to use the eReaders and making them aware of the presence of the library at All Saints.’  However, we had a completely different experience at Munengi than we did at Ngeya the past several days.  Munengi is a bit of a country school, so it was much smaller than Ngeya.  They have only one class per grade and the class sizes are more reasonable.  There are only about 200 students in the entire school.

We found the students to be much better behaved and more receptive to the eReader teaching.  We were also able to work in much larger groups giving a lot more time for individualized attention.

 

After teaching, we realized that the teachers at Munengi had canceled the normal classes for the day, so we were left to entertain the students for the balance of the day!  I have to say that my wife, Michael, Tyler Kerr and the Bishop were the rock stars of the late morning and early afternoon!  They were like benevolent and hilarious Pied Pipers!  Michael taught the students a bunch of rhyming games and Tyler Kerr taught them games like “Red Light, Green Light” and “Simon Says.”  I was most surprised by the Bishop who was able to engage the elementary students in both song, games and conversation!

Emily Huff works with several students

Emily Huff works with several students

John asks a student to demonstrate how to turn the eReader off!

John asks a student to demonstrate how to turn the eReader off!

Right before lunch, we worked with the Environmental Club to plant trees on the grounds of the school.  I realized something as we planted trees… I’ve been an “environmentalist” my whole life, but I have never planted a tree outside of an Eagle Scout project!  The grounds of Munengi are like many schools, a big open quad of mostly dust and some grass.  Part of our preparations for coming to Kenya involved committing to purchasing 40 small seedlings for the students to plant.  We were able to purchase these seedlings for 800 shillings (less than $10!)  Because we bought so many, the company through in an extra 10 plants!  If even 25% of the trees end up taking root and growing, it will transform the face of Munengi school!

In the afternoon, we took the bishop out to Agatha’s House so that he could see it and so that we could perform a house blessing.  When we rolled up to Agatha’s House, we were astounded to see the work that had been completed in the five days since we last saw it!  The walls of the kitchen were completed, the perimeter wall was almost done and the walls inside the house were painted beautifully!

Neither the Bishop nor I remembered our Books of Occasional Service, so we had to improvise a house blessing.  As we traveled from room to room, we asked the assemblage about blessings they would ask up on each room.  We took our cue from the room colors in several rooms and prayed for healing and growth in the green room, comfort after loss of innocence in the pink room, and for the young men who’s fathers had failed in showing them what manhood should be.  It was a wonderful improvisational service and the assembled congregation “blessed it good!”

It was a very full day, but Bishop Wolfe supported us in energy and prayer.  He brought a life to our group that we were starting to lose after so many days together.

Bishop Wolfe teaches the students a game involving snapping.

Bishop Wolfe teaches the students a game involving snapping.

Bishop Wolfe asks the cameraman (Fr. Fun) for help.

Bishop Wolfe asks the cameraman (Fr. Fun) for help.

Bishop Wolfe entertains the students.

Bishop Wolfe entertains the students.

The biggest “God Moment” of the day for me was watching how excited the children of Munengi were about planting trees!  Each of the students who handled a seedling treated it with such care, you would think it was a baby chick.  There was definitely a lot of competition and rustling to plant the trees, but each was planted with care and love.  Each student will be responsible for caring for each small seedling as they grow into saplings and then into maturity.  Soon, the trees will provide shade and oxygen to the students and faculty of the school.

For these students, I hope that they will see the growing trees as examples of God’s love.  Cooling them on hot days, filling their lungs with oxygen, providing them places to play and to grow alongside their trees!

Our Kenya trip is drawing to an end.  We leave in the morning for a safari in Nakuru and I might post another blog entry.  Thank you for following us and for supporting us in prayer.  As we finish our trip and journey back to Kansas, know that we have felt your love and support!

Bishop Wolfe puzzles over the eReader.

Bishop Wolfe puzzles over the eReader.

Bishop Wolfe puzzles over the eReader.

Bishop Wolfe puzzles over the eReader.

More eReaders & A Dedication

Today was a combination of old and new, all of it wonderful!

We returned to Ngeya this morning to teach the first through fourth graders about the eReaders (Kindles).  We decided to start with the first graders.  As you can imagine, they were too cute for words.  First grade at Ngeya is mostly spent beginning their acquisition of English as they have mostly heard Kiswahili and their “mother tongue,” whatever their tribal language is… mostly Kikuyu in this region.  Students in Kenya are in the middle of their school years right now.  I learned yesterday from one of the college students that the primary and secondary schools work on a calendar-year/trimester system.  So students will attend school for three months and then will have a month off, three of the same rotation during the calendar year.  The first graders that we met this morning were halfway through their study of English, so most of the class had to be taught by one of our Kenyan colleagues.

 

Kenyan college student Samuel demonstrates the eReader with first graders.

Kenyan college student Samuel demonstrates the eReader with first graders.

Taylor Cook helps a first grader with the eReader.

Taylor Cook helps a first grader with the eReader.

The College Team shows the eReaders to the first graders.

The College Team shows the eReaders to the first graders.

Patrick demonstrates the eReader to 1st graders.

Patrick demonstrates the eReader to 1st graders.

The first graders were mostly afraid of us at first, but once they warmed up to us, they took to the eReaders like it was their native land, even though they are entirely in English.  It was incredibly impressive.

We moved through the second, third and fourth grades before lunch.  We always made sure that the last message we gave to the students was “If you want to spend more time with the eReaders, make sure to come to the library at the Anglican Church!”  We figured that our strategy was to get them “bit” by the uniqueness of the technology so that they will start coming to the library after school and Ronald, the librarian, can have more one-on-one time with them.  Overall, I feel as though our time at Ngeya, though short, was very successful.

 

Fr. Patrick with second graders.

Fr. Patrick with second graders.

Taylor Cook with second graders.

Taylor Cook with second graders.

After Ngeya, we took a relaxing lunch at All Saints while we waited for the afternoon activities.  Most of us just sat out on the steps of the church and talked to each other or read from our books (or the eReaders!)

Around 2:30, a bunch of students from Ngeya appeared at the church!  It was many students from the fifth, seventh and eighth grade classes.  They came to the church for the formal dedication of the Osborne Library on the campus of All Saints which was scheduled to start at 4pm when the Bishop arrived.  As we had an hour and a half to entertain the students, we played games with them and talked to them in smaller groups than we were able early in the day.

 

Michael Funston talks with a group of Kenyan girls.

Michael Funston talks with a group of Kenyan girls.

Once Bishop Wolfe arrived, we started the dedication ceremony.  John Osborne, formerly of Wichita, KS, donated the library to the people of Maai Mahiu in memory of his parents.  John’s father was an Episcopal priest and a scholar who cherished books and Kansas 2 Kenya worked with him on establishing the library in Maai Mahiu.  It turns out that Amazon, under one of their non-profits called World Reader, donated the eReaders to the library!  The Bishop and Mr. Osborne both talked about the value of education during the dedication.

 

Steve Segebrecht, Renee and John Osborne, and Bishop Wolfe at the Osborne Library dedication.

Steve Segebrecht, Renee and John Osborne, and Bishop Wolfe at the Osborne Library dedication.

Bishop Wolfe prayers in thanksgiving for the new Osborne Library.

Bishop Wolfe prayers in thanksgiving for the new Osborne Library.

Because we’ve been working with Kenyan students for the past several days, we’ve learned quite a bit about the Kenyan education system.  It’s modeled after the British system, but is much more cut-throat.  At grade 8, all students take an exam and only those who pass are allowed to continue into secondary school.  It turns out that only about half of Kenyan eighth graders will pass the test this year.  Of the half that pass the test, only another half of them will be able to pay the school fees to pay for high school.  College admittance is even more rare.

 

I had a “God Moment” this morning as I was watching the first graders play with the eReaders:  I realized that, because of Kansas 2 Kenya’s involvement in Maai Mahiu, these first graders will have a much greater potential to succeed academically.  K2K has paid to fill each eReader with about 400 books!  Great works of literature, science texts, mathematics, are now all at the fingertips of the thousands of students in and around Maai Mahiu!

 

Maai Mahiu is mostly known around Kenya for its staggering numbers of AIDS related deaths each year leaving many children orphaned.  It is one of the major pit-stops on the “AIDS Highway,” so called because it is THE major trade route from Mombasa, Kenya into the interior of the continent.  Truck Drivers make their way down the road carrying freight and sleeping with prostitutes all along the road.

 

With K2K’s presence in Maai Mahiu, the face of Maai Mahiu has the potential to change!  What if Maai Mahiu became known for the number of eighth graders it successfully graduates?  What if it became known as the home of a Nobel-laureate?

 

This kind of renewal is possible!  The Kingdom of God is among us!

eReaders and Bullshit

With only three days left of actual mission work, today began on a somewhat somber note.  The team is realizing that our time here in Kenya is coming to a close.  As we made our way from Naivasha to Maai Mahiu this morning, we sat in mostly silence.  The journey from Naivasha to Maai Mahiu is a very beautiful 45 minutes.  For the first half of the journey, Mouth Longonot takes up much of the view, though we have spied giraffes and zebras on many occasions as well.  All along the road are various herdsmen with their mixed herds of goats, cows, sheep and donkey.  The Rift Valley is mostly very flat with few trees or large cactus.  Every now and then, you might notice a farm, but it’s mostly just native grasses.

Mount Longonot across the savannah.

Mount Longonot across the savannah.

Maai Mahiu was our destination this morning.  We arrived at Ngeya Primary School at around 9am and, after a short meeting with the Head Teacher (I’d call her a Headmistress), we began our work for the day.  Together with their Kenyan counterparts, the college students split into groups of four to travel to different classrooms to teach the students how to use the Osborne Library’s e-Readers.  The Osborne Library is located on the grounds of All Saints’ Anglican Parish and boasts a collection of 37 e-readers, each with hundreds of books.  We were asked to take the e-readers to school and to invite the students to the library.

Ngeya students huddle around Tyler Kerr wondering about his tattoos.

Ngeya students huddle around Tyler Kerr wondering about his tattoos.

Ngeya was an interesting experience for me because it was so different from the place I’ve called home for the past two years.  At Bishop Seabury Academy (in Lawrence), we have about 180 students, no more than 30 in a grade level and no more than 18 in a classroom.  Ngeya has 1,900 students in grades 1-8.  Each classroom has more than 60 students in it!  It was incredible to see… but even more incredible, there are only 30 staff who teach/manage these 1,900 students!  Today we focused on the older students starting with the 8th grade and working backwards to the 6th.  All the students were eager to learn about the e-Readers and figured them out even more quickly than the college students could teach!

Taylor Mather demonstrates the Kindle.

Taylor Mather demonstrates the Kindle.

Kenyan college student Robert teaches students.

Kenyan college student Robert teaches students.

Taylor Cook teaches Ngeya children.

Taylor Cook teaches Ngeya children.

After we ate lunch, we made our way out into the Maasai Mara, the area of the rift valley where the Maasai tribe lives almost exactly as it has for thousands of years.  The Maasai, herdsmen and pastoralists, have resisted much of the modernizing influence of the West which has changed the lifestyles of the predominant Kikouu and Luo tribes of Kenya.  Maasai are notable for their colorful clothing and beadwork.

We went to meet with some Maasai and to learn about how they construct their homes, “Manyattas.”  Together with a few members of the community team, we constructed about one quarter of a manyatta.  A skeleton is constructed from long thin sticks tied together with natural fibers.  After the skeleton is constructed, a goo of cow manure, water, dirt and concrete is plastered onto the outside of the skeleton until it is smooth.

Michael Funston puts together the Manyatta skeleton with the help of a Maasai woman.

Michael Funston puts together the Manyatta skeleton with the help of a Maasai woman.

Caitlin and Emily construct the manyatta with two Maasai women.

Caitlin and Emily construct the manyatta with two Maasai women.

I’ve been in Kansas since I was in fifth grade and we have a lot of cow dung, but I had to travel all the way to Kenya to have an excuse to play around with it.  It sounds disgusting, but I actually had a good time being shown by the Maasai women how to apply the paste to the manyatta.  Of course there were the requisite jokes about knowing how to handle shit and how other members of the team would make sure to tell the bishop that I knew my shit.

Fr. Funston kneading cow dung, dirt, water and concrete together.

Fr. Funston kneading cow dung, dirt, water and concrete together.

Fr. Funston applying the cow dung paste to the manyatta.

Fr. Funston applying the cow dung paste to the manyatta.

Today was a day of extremes.  In the morning, we spent time in a small city at an overcrowded public school and in the afternoon, we traveled out away from civilization to interact with a people who have existed in basically the same way for thousands of years.  Kenya is constantly pulled between these two philosophies:  how do we honor our heritage while honoring our culture?

It is a question that many of us ask.  When does modernization become problematic?  When does a death-grip on tradition actually endanger you?  Walking the line between innovation and tradition is difficult.  It is even a challenge that modern Christendom is facing.

Patrick and Robert fist-bump after their dung ordeal.

Patrick and Robert fist-bump after their dung ordeal.

Is it possible to “modernize” a 2000-year-old religion?  Does modernization make us lose something or does it help us to understand our context better?

Modernization is surely responsible for allowing us to meet our Kenyan brothers and sisters in Christ… but Tradition (specifically the 1662 Prayer Book) allows us to worship God together…

Our Changing Communities in Kenya

We missed a day of blogging because our Saturday was incredibly full!  Our Sunday has been very full as well, but I’ve found a few moments before dinner to blog about the weekend.

On Saturday morning, we woke up and drove about thrity minutes to the foot of Mount Longonot, a dormant volcano in the Rift Valley.  There we met six Kenyan college students who will be with us for the rest of our stay.  Longonot is a pretty interesting spectacle… the bowl of the dormant volcano houses its own biome.  Visitors to Longonot hike a very technical (without requiring gear) 3.1 km (630 feet ascent) route to the rim of the bowl where one can see amazing views of the surrounding countryside and the volcano’s bowl.  The more adventurous can hike the 7.2 km circumference of the rim.  Of the fourteen of us who attempted the climb, all of us made it up, but only eleven attempted (and completed!) the rim hike.  We enjoyed the chance to breathe some fresh air, to see some beautiful scenery and to get to know our Kenyan brothers and sisters.

We made our way back to Naivasha for showers and clean clothes and then we joined the newly arrived K2K Community Team at their guesthouse for dinner.  They successfully arrived in Kenya on Friday night, but this was our first chance to see them.  We will be overlapping their time in Kenya for about a week.  The meal was delicious and the chance to meet some new friends at the beginning of their Kenya journey was a joy!

This morning (Sunday), we awoke early to caravan down to Maai Mahiu for Sunday services at All Saints’ Anglican.  It was quite a service, lasting almost three hours!  Members of the Bishop’s staff came down to fellowship with us and the entire Community and College Teams were introduced.  We heard from several different choirs and Deacon Barbara Gibson (from St. John’s, Wichita) preached on the Gospel lesson: the faithful centurion.

After church, the college team joined the vicar of All Saints, Rev. Joshua, in some pastoral visits around Maai Mahiu.

Throughout all the activity of the weekend, I was thinking about the volatility of community.  For about a week, the College Team existed on its own and we were continually forming our own community.  However, this weekend, we had to invite the volatility of three separate communities into ours: the Kenyan students, the Community Team and the congregation of All Saints, Maai Mahiu.

We can get comfortable in community.  If you spend enough time with a group of people and you’ll be able to predict others’ behavior.  But the safety of a static community is not what we, as Chrisitans, are called to.  We are called to constantly be inviting others into our community, into the body of Christ.  Jesus had his intimate brotherhood, his community of disciples, but he was never content to just be with them.  He always had room for the stranger, always made an excuse to join another party.

As we form communities of Christ at home and abroad, may the Lord continue to bless us and keep us.

=Patrick

Kenya 2013: Hedgerows & Walls

Friday’s Blog is written by Trinity, Lawrence, KS Youth Minister Tyler Kerr.  Tyler is also a Senior Chemistry major at KU where he also serves as a Campus Ministry Peer Minister.

Today, our last day at Agatha’s House in Naivasha, we finished up painting the interior of the house.  Saying it is colorful would be an extreme understatement.  The main living area is yellow, and the rooms are blue, pink, orange, and purple.  Also, we finished up the foundation for the kitchen.  To strengthen the foundation, we packed in dirt on either side of the two and a half foot stone wall, then continued to build the floor.  We started by throwing medium sized rocks (1-30 lbs.) into the space enclosed by the foundation, which were then brutally beaten by a sledgehammer until all of them were less than one pound.  Following that, we put loose dirt over the top of the rocks to make a good base for concrete to go on top.  The biggest team achievement of the day was the moving of nine tons of stone for the wall that will surround the compound.  Each rock weighed around forty pounds, and we moved four hundred fifty of them.  Finally, today we burned the clippings from the pruning of the plants on the edge of the property.

Taylor Cook uses a hoe to break up the ground cover.

Taylor Cook uses a hoe to break up the ground cover.

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Tyler Kerr breaks ground for the foundation.

Tyler Kerr carries stones to fill the foundation.

Tyler Kerr carries stones to fill the foundation.

Keman smashes stones with a sledgehammer.

Keman smashes stones with a sledgehammer.

In Kenya, the Dovyalis caffra also known as the Kei Apple is often used for fencing due to its dense foliage and three inch poisonous spines that cover all parts of the plant.  I have found this plant to be my greatest nemesis of this entire trip.  On our second day of work, I was charged with the task of pruning this God-forsaken flora, which I deemed “The Plant from the Deepest Pits of Hell.” On that day, some of the team and I trimmed the plant back to the property line.  We then moved the clippings into piles using gloved hands (though the gloved provided minimal protection).  The following day, I removed the last of the stumps that needed to be pruned; only then did the real work start.  Fr. Patrick and I moved the trimmings into a large pile for burning.  This process took us the greater part of four hours to complete.  We moved as much of the trimmed foliage we could to the pile, including aloe vera, another spiked plant.  Throughout this entire process, we were constantly stabbed by the plant from Hell.  Stabs from the long needles on the plant cause what I can most accurately describe as a minor bee-sting that continues to irritate the skin for days.

Charmetra Walker trims the hedge.

Charmetra Walker trims the hedge.

Fr. Fun demonstrates the length of the Dovyalis caffra spines.

Fr. Fun demonstrates the length of the Dovyalis caffra spines.

Finally today, I was able to have the final word after numerous stabbings and poisonings.  We were at last able to set fire to the pile of spiked demons.  It did not burn very well as the wood was still green, but seeing the plants finally defeated was a great victory for me personally.

Tyler Kerr gets his revenge.

Tyler Kerr gets his revenge.

I have done much thinking about how this relates to my spiritual life, and I have noticed that it really reminds me of the story of Job.  From scripture, Job was described as “blameless and upright,” and “one who feared God and turned away from evil.” This is rarely said about a very rich man.  He had livestock numbering near ten thousand, and many servants.  Satan tested Job through loss of property and his children, boils covering his body, depression, and anger.  Finally, Satan gave up testing Job because his faith in God would not break.  God then restored Job’s health, and rewarded him with twice as much property, new children, and an extremely long life.  I think of Job as a far more serious example of myself.  Through perseverance, keeping my faith that it would eventually be over, and determination, I was able to conquer the flora from Hell.

The team carries stones for what will become a seven-foot wall.

The team carries stones for what will become a seven-foot wall.

The stones laid out for wall construction tomorrow.

The stones laid out for wall construction tomorrow.

Job’s story is very pertinent to everyday life as well.  My favorite passage from the bible is Psalm 23.  “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”  Job lived this every day of his affliction.  His faith was shaken, but never lost.  On this trip I have come more into contact with real hardship and real poverty.  Through work and perseverance, we can make the world a safe place for all, continue in God’s good work, and act to spread the love of God.

The College Team with foreman Ndongo.

The College Team with foreman Ndongo.

~Tyler Kerr

Establishing the Cornerstone

Today’s Blog Entry is written by Taylor Mather, Campus Ministry intern at Kansas State University!

Today marked our third day of work at Agatha’s House in Naivasha. When we arrived, we split into a couple of different groups to help out with different projects at the house. We continued to work on pointing (see Fr. Fun’s post from yesterday for more on that), filled the cracks on the interior walls, cleared brush from around the fence line, dug part of a hole for a bathroom, and laid the foundation for the walls that will be the outdoor kitchen.
Taylor Mather and Foreman Ndongo establish the cornerstone using a guiding string and a plumb-line.

Taylor Mather and Foreman Ndongo establish the cornerstone using a guiding string and a plumb-line.

Taylor Mather places the first layer of foundation stones along the guiding string.

Taylor Mather places the first layer of foundation stones along the guiding string.

I, along with the help of Taylor Cook, the foreman Ndongo, and a mason named Keman, did most of the work in building this foundation.  Taylor and I practically became mason apprentices. We learned a great deal about masonry and building as we began to put up these walls with a very specific process. The first and most important stone that was laid down was the cornerstone. The cornerstone determines the position of the walls being built up around it. Once this stone was in place, level with the back wall of the house, and perpendicular to the ground, we began to build our walls rock by rock. Sometimes the rock would fit perfectly into place, other times it had to be adjusted slightly or even removed entirely to make way for a rock that would be a much better fit.
Michael Funston stands where the new kitchen will be.

Michael Funston stands where the new kitchen will be.

The completed foundation wall.

The completed foundation wall.

Caitlin Gilliland filling in around the foundation.

Caitlin Gilliland filling in around the foundation.

The Taylors (Mather and Cook) build the foundation.

The Taylors (Mather and Cook) build the foundation.

We continued this process until we had 3 layers of stones and the foundation was complete.  This job took our whole day of work.  Throughout the day, I kept reflecting on the work I was doing and I was reminded of why I came on this trip: to make a difference. While I haven’t been able to see any immediate difference, I know that the work I did today will make a huge difference for the women who will come to live in Agatha’s House.
From that very first cornerstone, the foundation was already set. If that stone hadn’t been set perfectly in place, it could lead to a much bigger problem later on as more and more layers of rock are added.

Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes”? (Matthew 21:42)
Today, we built a strong foundation starting with that cornerstone. In the weeks to come, more and more layers of rock will be added to the foundation to form the walls of a kitchen, just as more and more people turn to Jesus as the foundation of their faith and beliefs. And because today’s foundation is strong, the walls will be strong as well. It has been important for me to remember that because there is such a strong cornerstone in Jesus, my faith remains strong. There may be times when that strength is tested, but in the end, my faith holds true because of His strong foundation.  While we may not see the direct benefit in the work we have been doing, I have faith that we are making a difference.
~Taylor
Tyler Kerr at the bottom of the future latrine.  He's 20 feet down now... it will be 50 feet by the time it's done!

Tyler Kerr at the bottom of the future latrine. He’s 20 feet down now… it will be 50 feet by the time it’s done!

Kenya 2013: Masonry & Ditches

Wednesday was a much longer workday for us.  Because we didn’t have to stop to buy supplies, we were able to be on site much earlier and so we were able to accomplish a lot more.  Agatha’s House is coming along nicely!

When we arrived, we saw that the foreman (a young man named Ndongo) had hired a team of about eight to dig for the foundations of the new kitchen, the new latrine and the new wall.  They were hard at work as we arrived using heavy pickaxes and shovels to clear two and a half foot ditches.  By the end of the day, they, along with some members of the team had dug about 350 feet of ditch!  Tomorrow they’ll begin laying the foundations!  I wouldn’t be surprised if we are able to see some new walls being added before we leave!

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Michael Funston digging a ditch!

The majority of the team was back inside painting.  Together with Nyakio, the team decided to use a palate of pastel colors to cover the primer from yesterday.  Pink, Blue and Green feature prominently in the interior decorating of the bedrooms and the living room will be mostly orange.  The hallway is a bright yellow.

Emily Huff and the colored walls!

Emily Huff and the colored walls!

My job today was to work with the crew who was doing “pointing.”  Pointing is a process by which you take a rough, natural stone wall and make it look very clean and very sharp from the outside.  Taylor, the campus ministry intern at K-State, and I learned how to do pointing using mason’s tools.  We were both dually shocked by how difficult it was and how skilled our Kenyan teachers were.

Before and After

A wall before pointing (below) and after (above)

As I continued to practice the art of spackling the wall, I meditated on Paul’s words to the Corinthians recalling his first days with them: “I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food.” (1 Cor. 3.1-2)  Paul is talking about how the journey of faith starts with easy to understand concepts before it moves into the harder theology.  We take baby-steps as we learn our faith.

I was feeling very inept as I began tossing grout at the walls of Agatha’s House this morning.  I felt like I could theoretically grasp what I was supposed to be doing, but my technique was terrible and I’m sure that my Kenyan brothers were feeling very put-on to teach me how.  I started by roughly throwing liquid-ish combination of concrete and sand onto the wall.  Once I had mastered that, it was time to learn how to smooth out my work.  After that, we moved into more detailed work that would give the impression of the pointing.  As I practiced more and more, I understood more and more.  By the end of the day, I can say that I get it and I’m “okay at it,” but I don’t even come close to the masters of the art.

Fr. Patrick & friends working on pointing the front wall.

Fr. Patrick & friends working on pointing the front wall.

Mission trips are interesting opportunities to be taken down a peg.  I mean this in a good way.  Every time I’ve ever done something in the mission field, I become very well aware of just how much of this world I don’t actually understand or am unable to do.  It can be humbling to learn that I will never be as good at masonry as the men I worked with today, but every time I’ve been on a mission trip, I’ve learned that nothing is actually totally beyond me.  I’ve accomplished something if I can shed the ego and realize that the work that I am doing is more about building relationships than building a house.  What matters is that we try and that we understand that we need to drink milk before we can eat solid food.

It’s very likely that in our time in Kenya our construction abilities will never progress past the “milk” phase, but our spiritual abilities and our relational abilities are already moving quickly into the “solid food” phase; getting stronger in each conversation and each relationship grown.  Today, as I worked with masters of masonry, I grew in my masonry ability just a little bit; I grew in my spiritual self much more, hearing stories from the men I worked with and imagining the healing that Agatha’s House will bring to the women and children of Naivasha and Maai Mahiu.

Christ empowers us in construction and in relationship, but I think that Jesus cares much more that the time we spend here in Kenya becomes more about relationships and less about trying to accomplish a specific goal.

=Fr. Patrick

Kenya 2013: Just Another House?

Today was a very full day for the College Team in Naivasha!  After a simple breakfast at our lodging, we traveled to the local hardware store to buy painting supplies.  We purchased several paint rollers, brushes and a large quantity of primer paint.  In an interesting turn of events, the paint came out not as our requested off-white, but yellow!

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After our visit to the hardware store we traveled to Agatha’s House, K2K’s current major project outside of Naivasha.  The house will function as a shelter for women and children attempting to escape from abusive households.  Because of the sensitive nature of its mission, we have been functioning under the guise of a group of college students who are in Kenya to learn about Kenyan construction techniques and are building “just another house.”  At the house, we painted the bare concrete walls with primer after scraping uneven parts of the walls and windows to make them smooth.

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One of the things I’ve been reflecting on today is this idea of appearances being deceiving.  We don’t want the general community of Naivasha to know that Agatha’s House is actually a home for abused women in order to protect the women.  To outsiders, the house will be just another house.  We partake in an deception for a larger good, for Agatha’s House is anything but Just Another House.

It makes me think about our Lord.  To his opponents, he appeared to be just another rabble-rouser.  Jesus had nothing which physically set himself apart from the other men of his time.  In fact, it was just precisely his normalcy which scandalized those around him.  “Where does he get this authority?” they would ask.

But we know the truth.  That though fully man, Jesus was anything but “only” man.  God’s divinity found its home in Christ’s body.  The ordinary housed the extraordinary.

Something extraordinary is happening in Naivasha.  Against cultural norms, a home for women is being founded.  Something extraordinary is being housed in an ordinary house.  We are honored to be allowed to be a small part of its foundation.  The College Team is amazed to accept the invitation to participate in God’s continual work of reconciliation in this place.

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Thank you for your prayers.

=Fr. Patrick